Lawsuit Says Faculty at a Top Arts School Preyed on Students for Decades

And now another School is in the news for all the wrong reasons. This time its the prestigious University of North Carolina School of Arts being charged with a whole range of abuses spanning a period of 40 plus years, of college age students to students as young as 14.

Some of those accused have died, which also raises the question of whether they got away with it, because they passed away before they had to face the music? But does it mean they had no regrets, or debilitating and disease inducing fear of discovery, or deep and painful guilt?

What about their legacy, how it reflects on the way they are remembered? The pain it may cause their children or grandchildren, friends, etc! Do those things count when considering whether death absolves someone who does bad things while alive?

Something to consider, but it is time for ALL schools to take vigilance to a higher level.

Lawsuit Says Faculty at a Top Arts School Preyed on Students for Decades

Dozens of people who studied at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts during a period of more than 40 years say they were sexually, emotionally or physically abused there as minors.

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts is the subject of a lawsuit by former students who say they were physically, emotionally or sexually abused as minors while studying there.
Credit…David Hillegas

The breadth of the 236-page complaint is as stunning as its details are disturbing.

A total of 56 former arts students say dozens of teachers and administrators participated in, or allowed, their sexual, physical and emotional abuse when they were in school. Overall, the misconduct spanned more than 40 years, beginning in the late 1960s, according to the lawsuit, and included assaults in classrooms, private homes off campus, a motel room off a highway, and a tour bus rumbling through Italy.

Respected figures in the dance and performing arts world who worked at the school are said to have participated.

The lawsuit, filed late last year, accuses faculty at the prestigious University of North Carolina School of the Arts of a range of abuses including rape. Court papers describe student complaints of being groped, of being fondled through their leotards and of alcohol-fueled dance parties where students as young as 14 were told to completely disrobe and perform ballet moves.

“We were children, and we were brave enough to come forward and not one single adult that represented the institution was as brave as we were,” said Melissa Cummings, 42, who described in an interview and court documents being invited to such parties as a student in 1995. She said she reported the abuse to the police and school officials when she was a senior there in 1997, but little changed.

“Your teenage years are so formative,” she said. “It destroyed me.”

Credit…Janet Linup; Chris Cummings; Rafael Salgado

Some of the teachers characterized in the lawsuit as the worst offenders are now dead. Others have yet to respond in court papers; still others declined or did not respond to requests for comment.

But the school itself, which is the lead defendant in the case, has expressed concern about the seriousness of the allegations and sought to assure the public that it has changed.

“I was personally horrified when I was made aware of the allegations in the complaint,” Brian Cole, the chancellor of the School of the Arts, said in a statement. “I respect the tremendous courage it took for our alumni to come forward and share their experiences, and we are committed to responding with empathy and openness in listening to their stories.” He also noted that “U.N.C.S.A. today has systems in place for students to report abuse of any kind.”

The school was the nation’s first public arts conservatory when it opened in the 1960s as the North Carolina School of the Arts in a quiet neighborhood just outside downtown Winston-Salem. According to court papers, the residential high school and college recruited students as young as 12, to study ballet, modern dance, music and other disciplines on a campus that included summer programs. It became part of the University of North Carolina system in 1972.

Some former students, teachers and school administrators have said throughout the years that their experience at the institution had been formative and enriching. But the plaintiffs depict a setting of rampant misconduct, and their lawsuit, filed in Forsyth County Superior Court, says it occurred, not for one year or two, but for decades, at one of the country’s most renowned arts schools.

The lawsuit seeks damages from 29 individuals named as defendants, eight of whom are accused in court papers of having directly abused students. In addition, the court documents say, 19 former administrators are said to have done nothing to stop a culture of exploitation so widespread that some students invented nicknames for two dance instructors described as the most prolific abusers — Richard Kuch and Richard Gain. They were known as “Crotch” and “Groin,” according to the court papers, which say the teachers often invited their minor students to a rural home, known as “The Farm,” where students said they were abused.

Mr. Kuch and Mr. Gain resigned from the arts school in 1995 after the school’s chancellor initiated termination proceedings against them. Mr. Kuch died in 2020, according to public records. Attempts to reach Mr. Gain were unsuccessful.

The suit was filed under the terms of a look-back law adopted in North Carolina in 2019 that opened a window for adult victims of child sexual abuse to sue individuals and institutions they hold responsible, even if the statute of limitations on their claims had expired. (The law is currently facing legal challenges.)

Similar laws are in place in roughly two dozen states, including California and New York following high-profile cases of sex abuse by authority figures that led lawmakers to rethink the wisdom of legally imposing time limits on the reporting of sex crimes.

“Our lawsuit against U.N.C.S.A. is an important example of a national trend,” said Gloria Allred, who is among the lawyers representing the victims in the case. “We are very proud of our clients for speaking truth to power and finding their courage to hold accountable those whom they believe have betrayed them.”

Some of the allegations had emerged publicly in a 1995 lawsuit brought by Christopher Soderlund, who is also a plaintiff in the current case. Mr. Soderlund’s lawsuit was eventually dismissed on the grounds that the three-year statute of limitations on his claims had expired.

At that time, the U.N.C. Board of Governors formed an independent commission “to review and respond to the concerns vocalized,” and produced a report that found “no widespread sexual misconduct at U.N.C.S.A.,” Chancellor Cole wrote in a letter to the campus community last fall.

In the current case, former students say that they endured the abuse in part because their tormentors sat on the juries that had the power to decide who to readmit each year. The court papers say the students were groomed to accept the abuse by teachers who suggested they were worthless, that their chosen professions in the arts would be cruel and that only by doing whatever their elite instructors demanded would they be able to succeed in their careers.

“It’s a very hard thing to explain,” said Christopher Alloways-Ramsey, one of the plaintiffs who has accused a ballet teacher, Duncan Noble, and others, of abusing him. (Mr. Noble’s work as an arts instructor was praised in his obituary in The New York Times in 2002.)

“You’re 16 years old and you really desperately want a career in ballet. The person you idolize is telling you, ‘I can give you that.’ The underlying subtext is that there will be something in exchange,” Mr. Alloways-Ramsey, 53, added. “But as a young person, you don’t actually understand what that might be.”

The court documents say that in the 1980s teachers held mandatory “bikini” days in modern dance class. In later years, teenage drama students were told to “seduce” their professors and were instructed to kiss each other lustfully for extended periods of time. Former students said instructors including Mr. Kuch, Mr. Gain and Melissa Hayden, the now deceased former star of New York City Ballet, often told them they needed to have sex in order to benefit their performance as dancers. Ms. Hayden was described in court papers as a verbally and physically abusive instructor, who, for example, beat a student on the leg with a stick and slapped another on the back so hard it knocked the student off her feet.

Some of the most egregious abuse occurred in private settings, according to the complaint, which said a ballet instructor once sat on a toilet in his hotel room and watched a student as she bathed. In another instance reported in the suit, a trombone teacher is said to have led a 16-year-old student into a dark room during an off-campus party, unzipped his pants and assaulted her.

The school had been the subject of a similar lawsuit in 1995 but the case was dismissed on statute of limitations grounds. The former student who was the plaintiff in that case has joined the new lawsuit. 
Credit…Julia Wall/The News & Observer

“It was soul crushing” said Frank Holliday, 64, of Brooklyn, who described the trauma of having to crawl through a dorm-room window after having sex with Mr. Kuch to avoid notice and embarrassment.

One former instructor accused in the suit, Stephen Shipps, who taught violin and left in 1989 for the University of Michigan, pleaded guilty in 2021 in federal court to one count of transporting a minor across state lines to engage in sexual activity. Mr. Shipps retired from the University of Michigan in February 2019, according to multiple news reports. His sentencing is set for Feb. 17.

In the current lawsuit, Mr. Shipps is accused of having summoned a 17-year-old student to his school office where he engaged in inappropriate sexual relations with her every day of the workweek.

Reached by telephone, Mr. Shipps declined to comment.

The suit also accuses the so-called defendant administrators of failing to protect the students, asserting they “clearly knew or should have known of the sexual exploitation and abuse of minor and other students that was occurring” and that they “unconscionably allowed this egregious and outrageous conduct to continue.”

Ethan Stiefel, a former American Ballet Theater star who later became a dean at the arts school, is one administrator listed as having held a position of responsibility at the time of some of the alleged abuse.

Attempts to reach Mr. Stiefel by telephone and email were unsuccessful.

When Mr. Soderlund’s lawsuit was filed years ago, and in recent months as the new court case drew attention, some former faculty members and school administrators have said they had no knowledge of the sort of misconduct described in the case.

In a telephone interview, Joan Sanders-Seidel, 88, a former faculty member who taught ballet and worked in the dance department for more than 20 years, described the students as among the most talented and industrious in the country, and a joy to teach.

“It was very special,” she said of the school, adding that she “loved every minute” of working there.

Ms. Sanders-Seidel’s own daughter attended the school and they only recently discussed the allegations of abuse, she said.

“I’m surprised about how stupid I was — how unaware,” Ms. Sanders-Seidel said. “I was never a naïve, innocent little dancer myself. So if I suspected anything, I probably just brushed it off.”

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What Goes Around Comes Around:

A stable, positive, non preachy, objective voice makes the book stand apart from others in the genre. A successful guide that uses anecdotes to reveal powerful truths about life.

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“I’ve read a number of books that focus on sharing a similar message, including “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne, “The Answer” by John Assaraf & Murray Smith, “The Celestine Prophecy” by James Redfield, “Think and Grow Rich,” by Napoleon Hill, and I must say that I find Rob’s to be my favorite. – Sheryl Woodhouse, founder of Livelihood Matters LLC

Lawsuit Says Faculty at a Top Arts School Preyed on Students for Decades

Lawsuit Says Faculty at a Top Arts School Preyed on Students for Decades

So, Chapter Two of the Jeffrey Epstein saga comes almost to a close. Almost, because we won’t know the final ending until we hear the sentencing, which is likely to be a doozie!

Sure, there will be an appeal and there have been shockers in the past, think R. Kelly in 2008. But this is not likely to be one of those.

So Ghislaine, was it worth it? The ride you had with your buddy Jeff, that is? Did the two of you simply mock the concept of Karma, Cause & Effect, What Goes Around Comes Around, different ways to say the same thing? Did you just buy his line that you were  “Teflon Twins” and they’d never get you. What?

Please tell us, explain so there’s some way to think something good and worthwhile about at least you, cause its sure hard to find in this wreckage!

Colombo Family Crime Boss and 12 Others Are Arrested, Prosecutors Say

An indictment unsealed on Tuesday accuses the organization of orchestrating a two-decade scheme to extort a labor union.

Credit…Jesse Ward


For two decades, the leadership of the Colombo crime family extorted a Queens labor union, federal prosecutors said — an effort that continued unabated even as members of the mob clan cycled through prison, the family’s notorious longtime boss died, and as federal law enforcement closed in.

Over time, what began as a Colombo captain’s shakedown of a union leader, complete with expletive-laced threats of violence, expanded into a cottage industry, prosecutors said, as the Colombo organization assumed control of contracting and union business, with side operations in phony construction certificates, marijuana trafficking and loan-sharking.

On Tuesday, 11 reputed members and associates of the Colombo crime family, including the mob clan’s entire leadership, were charged in a labor racketeering case brought by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn.

All but two of the men were arrested Tuesday morning across New York and New Jersey, prosecutors said. Another was surrendered to the authorities on Tuesday; another defendant, identified as the family consigliere, remained at large, prosecutors said.

The indictment accuses the Colombo family of orchestrating a two-decade scheme to extort an unnamed labor union that represented construction workers, using threats of violence to secure payments and arrange contracts that would benefit the crime family.

The charges are an ambitious effort by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to take down one of the city’s five Mafia families. In addition to the union extortion scheme, which is the heart of the racketeering charge, the indictment charges several misdeeds often associated with the mob, including drug trafficking, money laundering, loan-sharking and falsifying federal labor safety paperwork.

Detention hearings for the defendants in Brooklyn federal court continued into the evening Tuesday, as they entered not-guilty pleas to the charges; prosecutors had asked the court to keep 10 of the defendants in custody.

“Everything we allege in this investigation proves history does indeed repeat itself,” Michael J. Driscoll, F.B.I. assistant director-in-charge, said in a statement. “The underbelly of the crime families in New York City is alive and well.”

Around 2001, prosecutors said, Vincent Ricciardo — a reported captain in the family, also known as “Vinny Unions” — began to demand a portion of a senior labor union official’s salary. When Mr. Ricciardo was convicted and imprisoned on federal racketeering charges in the mid-2000s, prosecutors said, his cousin continued to collect those payments.

Starting in late 2019, prosecutors said, the senior leadership of the Colombo family became directly involved in the shakedown, which extended to broader efforts to siphon money from the union: for example, manipulating the selection of union health fund vendors to contract with entities connected to the family, and diverting more than $10,000 each month from the fund to the family.

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Andrew Russo, 87, who prosecutors describe as the family boss, is accused of taking part in those efforts, as well as a money-laundering scheme to send the proceeds of the union extortion through intermediaries to Colombo associates. He was among nine defendants charged with racketeering.

Mr. Russo appeared in court virtually from the hospital Tuesday; he is set to be detained upon his release, pending a future bail hearing.

The family’s infamous longtime boss, Carmine J. Persico, died in federal custody in North Carolina in March 2019.

Federal law enforcement learned of the extortion scheme about a year ago, prosecutors wrote in a court filing Tuesday; investigators gathered thousands of hours of wiretapped calls and conversations recorded by a confidential witness, wrote the prosecutors, who also described law-enforcement surveillance of meetings among the accused conspirators.

The authorities said they repeatedly captured Mr. Ricciardo and his associates threatening to kill the union official. “I’ll put him in the ground right in front of his wife and kids,” Mr. Ricciardo was recorded saying in June.

On another occasion cited by prosecutors in the memo seeking his detention, Mr. Ricciardo directed the union official to hire a consultant selected by the Colombo family, saying: “It’s my union and that’s it.” Prosecutors said his activities were overseen by a Colombo soldier and the consigliere who remains at large.

Much of the activity outlined in the indictment took place while the defendants were either in prison or on supervised release for prior federal mob-related convictions. Theodore Persico Jr., described as a family captain and soldier, was released from federal prison in 2020 and, despite a directive not to associate with members of organized crime, “directed much of the labor racketeering scheme,” prosecutors said.

Mr. Persico, 58, is set to inherit the role of boss after Mr. Russo, prosecutors wrote.

Several of the defendants were named in what prosecutors described as a fraudulent safety training scheme, in which they falsified state and federal paperwork that is required for construction workers to show they have completed safety training courses.

One of the defendants, John Ragano — whom prosecutors say is a soldier in the Bonanno crime family — is accused of setting up phony occupational safety training schools in New York, which prosecutors said were “mills” that provided fraudulent safety training certificates to hundreds of people.

In October 2020, prosecutors said, an undercover law enforcement officer visited one of the schools in Ozone Park, Queens, and received, from Mr. Ricciardo’s cousin, a blank test form and an answer sheet; weeks later, the agent returned to pick up his federal safety card and paid $500.

The purported schools were also used for meetings with members of La Cosa Nostra — the group of crime families commonly known as the Mafia — and to store illegal drugs and fireworks, according to the indictment.

Mr. Ragano wasn’t charged on the racketeering count, although prosecutors also sought his detention pending trial. In addition to the racketeering count, several defendants, including Mr. Ricciardo and his cousin, were charged with extortion, conspiracy, fraud and conspiracy to make false statements.

William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.


An earlier version of this article misstated the number of people identified in an indictment as members of the Colombo crime family. It is 11, not more than a dozen.